Saturday, June 30, 2007

Was talking to a sub-contractor friend, wondering where all the workers -- who were building twice as many houses last year -- went. He said, many of the Portland outlets, who had come in toward the end of the bubble, have packed up and headed back. That would explain part of it.

Was having one of my many discussions about downtown Bend, and asked an out-of-town customer standing at the counter what she thought. "You are so screwed," she commented. "It's very strange that you have offices selling destination resort deals in a yuppy, tourist downtown. Just goes to show what's important in the local economy."

I went home last night, and there was several local Realtors advertising on T.V. I hadn't really noticed that before. That seems unusual as well. (And, oh by the way, to me, posing with your two wolfhounds just makes you look pretentious, not sophisticated....)

Looking through the Source and seeing all these fancy new stores -- located on the outskirts of Bend, on streets I've never heard of. Only someone who has never lived here would pick those locations.

Which got me to thinking about all the stores who not only have popped up in the last few years because of the bubble who are also dependent on the bubble continuing.

I remembered the guy who had a flooring business from Portland, who commented that there were more flooring businesses in Bend than Portland. (Portland's pop. being roughly 500k, and Bend being 75k) That can only be explained if many of these flooring businesses are servicing the new contruction.

I'll use Longview, WA as my test case, because I just was there, and researched it a little. It's a town that grew from 30k to 35k in 10 years. So, they needed, at, say, 3 people per house, to build 1666 houses in ten years (166 houses per year.) Let's say, and now I'm just making up figures to make a point, that existing houses need flooring replaced on the order of 3% a year basis, or roughly 300. So, lets posit that there are three flooring outfits in Longview, who split the new and the old jobs, each doing 155 jobs a year. Any new flooring business would have to eat into or replace the existing available jobs.

Take Bend with the same numbers. Under the same made up criteria, there might be a need for 750 jobs a year for existing houses, which would make room for about 5 ongoing outfits. But there might be many more outfits who are servicing the NEW housing. What happens when they stop being built? Extend that to roofing and landscaping and plumbing and electrical and furniture and....

We are so screwed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Couple of interesting tidbits in the paper today that could, in theory, positively affect my business. In reality, I suspect they'll have little or no affect.

First is the online sales tax. It seems fundamentally unfair to me that brick and mortar stores should have to collect and pay sales taxes, while their competition online doesn't.

In Oregon, it has a bit less effect, but a bit of help on decreasing the online pricing competition wouldn't hurt, either.

Thing is, I'm pretty sure loopholes will be found, and enforcement will be impossible.

An interesting side note; if sales taxes are collected at the state of origin, then Oregon would become Online capital of the U.S. We'd be the Belize (Flags of Convenience); the Switzerland (banking); the Delaware (Incorporation); the Florida (personal bankruptcy) of online shopping.

The second bit is more interesting to me. The Supreme Court will allow base pricing. Again, the biggest problem will be enforcement, on the part of the manufacturer. It could also have the unintended effect of driving even more business online, where enforcement is much harder. After all, you can walk into my store and see what I'm charging. But I could have any number of e-bay accounts, etc. where it would be pretty hard to track me down. So loopholes and enforcement will make the whole thing mostly moot.

Still, it's interesting to contemplate an alternate history, of say, sports cards.

A new 'premium' brand emerges. You can only buy it at brick and mortar stores; "Authorized Dealers" who must charge you a minimum price. The brand is expensive, but very limited.

In reality, there are many 'premium' brands on the market today. But they can be sold for less than cost the day after they come out, and often are. Perpetual flea markets, like Frank and Sons in California, can blow the stuff out for 3% profit. No brand is safe.

Kinda makes mincemeat of collecting, frankly.

Then, there was the interesting exception of Beanie Babies. Ty insisted that you buy in quantity, and that you neither undercharge or overcharge your product. I always wondered how he got past the 'anti-trust' measure that the Supreme Court has just overturned. I think he did it by implying that you could have your account taken away, rather than spelling it out. He'd send a notice about how he wanted accounts to respect his wishes or he would take them off the list; a week later he would make a 'request' that they stick to pricing.

Beanie Babies were a fad. But I'm convinced they lasted a year longer than normal because he was able to create artificial shortages and enforce pricing.

Another interesting alternative reality: Scholastic Press insists that all Harry Potter books be sold for full price.

Gone the advantage of Amazon, of Cost-Go, of Barnes and Nobles. A level playing field. How many fewer Harry Potter books would be sold? Hell, I want to read the damn thing, don't you? So what? 10.00 more isn't going to break me.

Just saying....

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fact: Bend has grown by 44.7% since 2000.

Fact: Central Oregon income is behind national, state averages.

Fact: The Grove is closing.

How do these facts relate?

I've already been contemplating the demise of some of my long competitors, (Gambit, 10 years; American Sports, 17 years), at a time when Bend is undergoing a population surge.

You can make a strong case that retail footage in Bend has increased even faster, (my guess is that the retail surge has been at least double again the population) so everyone is actually fighting for a shrinking dollar share.

But I also believe that that half-again population figure is a bit of a mirage, so far. These newcomers are not fully residents of Bend, yet. They've just moved here, they're in the process of settling in. They aren't organic to the area, they've come here from somewhere else. They're disoriented; the normal getting acquainted and familiar with the area is going to take time.

It's hard to gain any loyalty, or even customer awareness, when waves of newcomers keep arriving. There is little of the normal benefit to longevity in such an atmosphere. To a person who has only been here for a couple a years, a 3 year old business doesn't look all that different from a 20 year old business. What does it matter to them?

It's complicated by the fact that so many of the people moving here aren't really feeling like citizens, yet. Many are retirees, whose identity is probably still wrapped up in where they spent most of their lives. I don't get the sense that many of these newcomers are in a hurry to dive into a new identity as Bendites.

It will probably come, eventually. If and when the surge slows down and we can all take a deep breath. Until then, familiar mass market names are probably going to be first choice to many of these newcomers. So far, I feel like many of these people are skimming what Bend has to offer, sampling, and floating. They haven't really dug

Some may never really see Bend as anything but an extended vacation. Meanwhile, many of the new workers in town may see Bend as a temporary work place. So the business community is going to have a hard time catching on with a lot of these people.

I've always maintained that the first population surge, up until about 1990, tried to fit in. The second wave overwhelmed the local traditions, either consciously or unconsciously. This third wave just doesn't care. They're here for the amenities, baby.

It's not a normal situation. And we aren't going to get normal results.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There's an assumption on the part of comic creators' that if the comic shop owners would somehow just become more 'enlightened', and if we would just carry more and diverse comics, especially independents and children's comics, that all would be well.

It's a bit frustrating; especially for someone who is actually trying to do as they ask. And to know that, that in the real world, they are just flat out wrong.

I carry kids comics, lots of them, all the Asterix, Tintins, Bones, Scooby Do's, Sonic the Hedge Hogs, and on and on. I've given them the whole front of my store, prime territory. But on a scale of 1 to 10, with 5 being marginally profitable, I'd give them a 5 (after I've put blinders on, and giving them the widest benefit of the doubt.)

A typical scenario is that I get a Mom and a 9 year old in the door. I hear the kid say, "Look! Comics!"

I've learned to leave them alone. I used to drag them over the Marvel and DC comics, where they would just stand confused and then leave. Comics today don't look like what the kids or the parents expect....but they are what sell to the actual comic buyers. A stand off, if I've ever seen one.

So I let the kid look through my comics section. And what do they come up to the counter with, more often than not?

Garfield, or Calvin and Hobbes, or Get Fuzzy. Maybe a Tintin or an Asterix. Perhaps a Bone, of BabyMouse. Great, I made a sale. But it wasn't a comic; it isn't going to instill the comic reading habit in that kid.

And it wasn't because I wasn't carrying it, or wasn't presenting the comics in an attractive way. It just doesn't seem to be in the culture anymore. There is the desire to buy comics....just not any real comics. They want mythical comics, comics in the head, comics that came out in the 50's and 60's and 70's and 80's, except that all those comic buyers quit. So I've got a whole clientele of 20 to 40 year old mostly guys buying comics that the public doesn't want.

But I also have just about every comic I can find that I THINK will appeal to the public --- and they mostly sit there. This is the marketplace at work. I believe that newstands and grocery stores stopped selling comics because they weren't profitable. I believe that most comic shops have stopped selling kids comics because they weren't profitable. Believe me, very few store owners are adverse to earning money.

I'll keep fighting the good fight. I'll stack my selection and presentation up against any store in America. But I don't blame any other comic shop for not wanting to expend the money and space. The creators need to get off their clouds and get into the trenches. What comic creators are really asking us to do is be a non-profitable support system for the future good of comics. Fine. I'll do that. Just be aware of what you're asking for.

And, I say this as someone who is doing exactly as they wish! (I do it for myself, not them, but still....)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I'm so focused on the business for the next 9 weeks or so, that I find that I'm not paying too much attention to other things. Housing bubble? Well, it will happen or not. I'm going to be dealing with large numbers of folk downtown, and I'm hoping they'll be in the mood to spend money.

Today, had 82 people, and since only about 3 of them were regulars, that's alot of people. Not many of them spent, however. That probably won't start happening until a little later in the summer. Thankfully, my biggest customer spent more money than everyone else combined.

So, anyway......I'll probably be focused on the store for awhile....

Monday, June 25, 2007


I'm fascinated by the psychology of bubbles -- well, bubbles ARE psychology if you want to get right down to it. So I'm always questioning myself.

The nub of the article is that Silicon Valley people are suffering from "post-traumatic stress" and "tend to spot bubbles everywhere..."

So, is that what is happening with my own psychology.... or with fellow Bend Bubble Bloggers?.

First, Bend.

Is there a bubble?


Secondly, my own response to the bubble. If anything, my usual response is to go along with a bubble, at least emotionally. I can look around at my own situation, what's happening at the store, and say, 'everything's fine.' But experience has taught me to look at the signs as objectively as possible.

While the first 2 bubbles I experienced in my business nearly put me out of business, and the next 2 were a wash, the last 3 bubbles were very profitable for me. But it takes recognizing bubbles when you see them, and dealing with them in a very dispassionate way. If anything, I'm less likely to call a surge a bubble than most of my peers. I don't think I've seen what I would call a bubble in my business the last 7 years (which in itself is strange, since I experienced at least 7 bubbles in the proceeding 17 years.) Bubbles, by my definition, require a huge element of speculation. Also, the growth rate has to exceed 20% a year in my opinion, and a true bubble is exponential. I've seen strong growth in my store in several product lines, but they've been below 20%, and fueled with a rather large amount of investment in inventory.

I let my enthusiasm outweigh my doubts over the last year. But I'm now in the risk-adverse mode, and I'm just hoping I haven't waited too long. Either way, I've made my arrangements. Looking around, I'm seeing very few signs of slowdown in my store. Customer count is up, regulars are still showing up, no one is talking about losing their jobs, etc. So this is where the dispassionate element comes into play, because every bubble ends this way. At the very moment people should be cutting back, they double down. Why not? They've succeeded until unless you've lost your shirt once or twice, you aren't going to see the dangers.

In fact, you'll write and/or publish an article that implies that anyone who calls out "BUBBLE!" is "displaying a deep seated insecurity."

We'll see. The economy doesn't care.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sometimes when I go to the store after a busy weekend, it looks as though just about everything in the store has been put off kilter by half an inch. As though a troop of elves have spent all night industriously setting everything askew.

The elves are the general public. During the week, the bulk of my business is with regulars, who more or less know what they want and where to get it. During the weekends and holidays, we get a bigger crowd.

Half inch? Big deal, right? But I have a theory that the more orderly things are, the more people will try to keep things orderly; the more disorganized things are, the more disorganized they will get. People pick up the subtle signals that you care how things look. Like a new car without a single dent being treated with more respect than an old clunker.

There are very few stores out there that have as many small items packed into as small a space. I've learned that the more material I have in the store, the better my sales, and at the same time, the space has become more valuable. I've packed every inch with product, floor to ceiling.

But I've also made a real effort to try to keep it from looking too cluttered and messy. This means I need my displays to be as ordered and straight as I can make them. Not so much for the customer, though that's a bonus, but for me -- because the straighter things are, the less work I'll have to do later.

It's always been hard to get this through to my employees. Going around and putting things back, half an inch, seems like make-work to them. But the store is already visually overwhelming; having things just slightly off makes it look much, much worse.

I just spent two hours at the store, going from one end to the other, trying to get it all put back together. If I don't, it could all get out of control.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

As I said yesterday, I'm trying to downshift into neutral. I tend to either go full blast, or slam on the breaks. So I'm grinding gears trying to find the neutral gear, right now. It affects everything I do, including this blog.

I really want to take a wait and see attitude. The next 10 weeks of business are going to tell me a lot about my future. Either I hit my projections, in which case the future looks bright, or I totally miss my projections and I am stuck doing what I'm doing (best minimum wage job....etc.) for the near future. Or most likely, somewhere in between, in which case I'm over the worst, but not quite where I can relax.

But the only thing for it, is to keep my foot off the pedals.

Friday, June 22, 2007

My sister-in-law is inhabiting our guestroom (otherwise known as my office) this week. So I won't be doing this until I get to work.

The hardest thing for me to do is to do nothing at all.

I've spent the last 3 years strategizing my plan, and setting it into motion.

Phase One: Increase sales through inventory expansion and diversity. 2 years, later extended to 2 1/2 years.

Phase Two: Refine sales within expansion. Dress rehearsal to see what I'm missing. Six Months.

Phase Three: Let sales settle where they settle. Keep an eagle eye on the budget, and try to make a profit.

The dilemma I've been struggling with over the last year or so was the clear trajectory that the longer I put off phase 3, the more I would profit later.

But -- and this is a very big huge but -- the longer I put off phase 3, the bigger the danger that outside forces will impact on the profit plans. (Hence, the concern over the housing bubble.)

Still, what's done is done. We are now at the beginning of phase 3. No more expansions, no more experimenting, no more tinkering.

And it's driving me nuts.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Off to a rip-roaring.....dud of a week. Last week was 20% below estimates. But I'm sticking to plan, for the next 10 weeks, no matter what.

I had it pegged as 'transition' week, and that's exactly what it felt like. I think the powers that be have shaved a couple of weeks off the summer with schools not getting out until mid-June; and they've shaved a couple weeks off Christmas with their nasty habits of having panic sales in the last 3 weeks.

So, we'll see what happens next week. Doesn't really matter. I'm sticking to plan.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I've had a bit of time to ponder Brenneke's 12 million offer for Broken Top. This is what I've come up with, understanding that this is all pulled out of a hat, and high finance is not an area I've had any experience in.

So why would someone be willing to pay 12 million for something that sold for 7.5 million a few months ago -- after it has become very clear that whatever development he has in mind will be hitting huge roadblocks?

1.) Setting benchmark. To the current owners, he can say, see -- I'm willing to pay this much, please don't sue me for wasting 7.5 million of your trust fund. To the club members, he can lay down the gauntlet and say, see -- I'm willing to pay this much, you had your chance and turned it down, and the courts will someday see it that way. To the future courts, see -- I was willing to pay 12 million so please don't throw my lawsuit out of court.

Most of these are predicated on his offer not actually being accepted.

2.) He really believes that he is going to be able to build his development and it will be worth a goldmine.

3.) He sees some other payout down the road. The land, the golf course, the restaurant -- something the rest of us aren't seeing.

Which is more likely?
I went home disappointed in the first two days of sales, this week. But sleeping on it, I realized that almost all my sales yesterday were to people I wouldn't ordinarily assume to be customers. In fact, I could remember only 2 regulars coming in all day. A few years ago, many of these buyers wouldn't have come in at all, or if they had, stayed for long, or if they had stayed, bought anything.

Oh, Bulletin. You are chock-a-block with ironic goodness.

Taxpayers would be willing to support BAT? So much for it being self-paying.
(Ditto the Tower Theater article a couple of days ago.)

Builder says, it's cheaper to make homes with a few variations. Hey! Why not make every house the same? That would make it even cheaper! You can always plant a few flowers and use a different paint color later!

The bid to buy Broken Top? Have no idea what's going on there. No comment. Just, there's something weird going on.

The 'affordable' housing units downtown will need to be sold for much higher?
What a surprise. Let's see, build in the most expensive commercial area and find out it costs alot.

Builder skips the inspection process by forgery. Gosh, I'm sure that in the rush to build all these new houses, rain, snow, or shine, no other builder has cut corners....

Bulletin being against union labor for public works. What a surprise. Can't hire any illegal immigrants to build our schools? Whats the world coming to. (Only a coincidence that George Will has a column on union busting today....)

The city council is too busy to pay attention to these things. They're wrestling with Juniper Ridge, which should take shape in....oh, I don't know....ten or twenty years?

No more timber payments? We all hate waste and pork, except when it comes to our timber payments! We need representative with more clout! Like the states with ethanol!

I think I'm ready to quit reading the news for awhile. It's just too dispiriting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Had a nice long message at home, but our service went out.

At the store, trying to take a step back. These next ten weeks are super important for me to stick to budget.

This week is what I call 'transition' week. Kids are out, moving around, families are shifting, and so on. Next week, summer will be here in full.

I hope.
I've been experimenting -- tinkering, if you will -- with my shipping schedules for re-orders.

Budgeting has always been a problem for me, as well as cash-flow, because I don't have any real control over when product shows up. In fact, I can count on a large percentage of it being late.

My solution, finally, was to control how much I spend each week, and have enough money left in my account to cover the cash flow.

By re-ordering, rather than pre-ordering, half of my stuff, I've been able to exert some control over the budget; the risks being that pre-orders are pretty much secure and guaranteed, but re-orders are subject the vagaries of popularity. Sometimes, the product just isn't there.

Diamond Comics is pretty much a monopoly in comics. Up until a couple of years ago, my discount from them depended on how much I pre-ordered. Since I was on the bottom side of the discount plateau, I didn't worry about my re-order policy.

A couple of years ago, just as I was reaching close the the next level up, and was going to have to decide on pouring more of my budget to pre-orders, they changed the terms. Or Marvel Comics did. They created a Final Order Date, FOC, which was only two weeks before shipping, and rejiggered the discounts to TOTAL orders, rather than just pre-orders. I'm more of less in favor of this system, except that they round off the entire year, so you can be at a higher level of orders and not benefit for a long time.

About a year ago, DC Comics followed Marvel's example. Diamond just froze our discount level, until DC decided on the new plateau, and there we've sat. It basically no longer matters if I pre-order or re-order, when it comes to discounts.

Diamond, being a monopoly, does charge a 3% reorder fee for any non-Marvel, DC, Dark Horse or Image orders, which is pretty crazy. No other supplier I have PUNISHES me for making reorders.

Diamond allows me to make re-orders on a Tuesday, getting comics on a Thursday, which are not billed until the following Wednesday, and if I meet a 250.00 wholesale level, charge me ground-shipping rates rather than air rates.

I had figured that it costs me an extra 40.00 a week in shipping charges, or around 150.00 a month. That would buy me about 15 to 20 extra graphic novels per month, if I ordered through normal channels. The downside would be, it would be billed on the day they arrived, instead of the extra week, and would arrive at least 5 days later.
And I'd not be able to look my customers in the eye, and say, "I'll have that for you by Thursday."

Still, an extra 15 to 20 graphic novels a month....

So, I've tried that for the last 4 weeks. The results, about half as good in shipping costs as I hoped. I'm still paying ground rates, even if they are consolidated into my regular shipments. I'm maybe saving 75.00 a month. Big whoopee. I'm probably losing that much money by not having the product for an extra 5 days, and losing the billing, and not being as reliable as before.

So back to normal.

My other suppliers, by the way, all REWARD re-orders. Free shipping, or minimal shipping. One of the hazards of a monopoly. Pretty wonky stuff, but that's been my project.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I look at the announcement of yet another huge development in the Old Mill District and think, Wow.....just, wow.

The tendency is to think; well, this is big money. They must have done the research. They must know something I don't know. They must know what they're doing.

Not necessarily. I remember watching the AOL/ TimeWarner merger news conference, and thinking....what they said makes no sense. It's all jargon and buzz words, but no substance.

I watched Marvel make one huge mistake after another, until it went Chapter 11. (Someone said later, everyone in the company knew they were going down the wrong path, except the 3 guys making all the decisions.)

I've watched more than one industry for which my livelihood depends, self-destruct, with the major players making the major mistakes.

I've learned to trust common sense.

And the Old Mill District defies common sense.
I'm going to respectfully ignore the message on bendbubble2, except to say that it's been up for a couple of days, and I've gotten over the shock of it. As someone said, it's a bit like reading your own obituary.

We've come not to praise Duncan, but to bury him.

No...who are you! Get back!!

Duncan McGeary -- Zombie for Mayor!

Braaainsss! Must....Eat.....Braaaaainnnnnssss!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I was all ready to rant and rave and bitch and moan about the street closures downtown.

And then we did --- average, straight down the middle average for a Saturday. No harm no foul? Well, it is a lot more work, and there is a bit more damage and disruption. Fair trade for the extra promotion?

Except I don't think the promotion really works. Nor do we really need it, anymore. To me, it's the equivalent of a restaurant closing on a Friday night to promote Monday and Tuesday.

Let us have our 12 weeks of summer without interruption. Don't do me any favors.

O.K. I like my routine. Street Closures disturb my calm. I don't like crowds, but I understand that some people seek them out. I can guarantee you, we'd do great business every weekend of the summer. the middle of October....lure people back downtown. Whatever.

Just let me have my summers to be a retailer.

But I don't have to feel like a killjoy anymore. The Old Mill District would be glad to host all these events. In fact, it's my understanding that we lured the BITE away from them.

For years, I was able to document that street closures cost me about 1/3 business. I'd talk to other merchants, and almost all of them would report lower sales. Some were disgruntled under the surface, but unwilling to say anything. I had one prominent merchant, just before he moved out of downtown, mutter that he wished he'd never started one of the major events in the first place. Another merchant mentioned the street closures as one of the reasons she left downtown. One said it was her worst day of the year, followed by the comment how 'great' it was for downtown -- and she was gone a few months later. (Victim of higher rents; watch out what you wish for.)

Even when merchants admit sales are down, they always add but its 'great' for downtown.

But I've never seen any proof of that. In fact, I've tried to look at the customers over the following weeks and figure out if they've come back....or will mention that they've come back. Nada.

Lately, probably because I've made a real effort to mainstream my store, the street closures have been pretty much a wash. So, I'll cop to that.

But I still don't like them.

I'd like to keep the Pet Parade (which I participated in when I was 5 years old with an ant farm -- I've always been weird.) As well as the Christmas Parade and Tree lighting.

If we have to have other events, I'd like to seem them in the OFF SEASON when they might do some good.

I still think its crazy to close the streets, invite a bunch of outsiders, ON THE BUSIEST SHOPPING DAYS OF THE YEAR! (Other than Christmas....)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Duncan's Manifesto.

I'm an outsider. I have no inside knowledge, except what I pick up here and there at the store, and most of that is unconfirmed, so I can't use it. I'm a loner, really, as well. I don't have networks of friends who tell me the inside scoop. What happens is I talk about some subject so much, that occasionally some insider will let something slip.

Background information. I won't pretend I have lots of that, either. Most of what I know, I learned in the newspaper or online. Most people on the bubble blogs have way more knowledge and experience in the legal, financial, technical details.

I'm an observer. I watch, and analyze. I like to believe that I can cut through all the surrounding chaff and get the essence of a situation. (For those who know what I'm talking about, I'm a 5 and an INTJ). I like trying to get at the truth, or the core of things.

What I do know, is my own business and how events around me affect my business. I've gotten pretty good at looking at local retail, and making pretty accurate guesses as to their nature.

I'm no business genius, though I've survived a long time as a small business in Bend , Oregon. I like to say, 27 years in Bend is like 150 years anywhere else. I've survived 75% drops in the number of comic stores, 50% drops in game stores, 90% drops in card shops, and I'm still thriving, if not getting rich. The title of my blog is only a year or two out of date, and not by much. (the minimum wage part, I'm still middle aged.) Linda and I have opened a used bookstore that is thriving at a time when bookstores are struggling.

But it has never been my goal to do more than run a store and have fun at it. To be my own boss, and by those standards, I feel I've succeeded.

I see the world in 'sometimes,' 'often', 'maybes' and so forth. Not in absolutes. I think most people think they are doing the right thing, and rationalize when they don't.

I'm NOT an advocate, except to try to point out when the emperor has no clothes. I actually think one can influence local events, if one wants to get involved. I don't really want to get involved. Mostly, because I don't think I would be effective. I would lose my perspective. Nor am I practiced at such a condensely social interaction.

I'm a fatalist. I think the political system in America has spun out of control. The impassioned political blogs, who try to pretend they are oh so cynical and ironic actually reveal themselves to be idealist by their very passion. I actually have taken a step back and simply observe.

No one is more surprised than me at the relatively reasonable tone of my posts; people who know me at the store say I'm much more a loose cannon there.

I tend to look at events and try to adapt them them, rather than change them. If my words have effect, if I can help influence opinion, fine. But I usually don't take the tack of trying to change things, except where they directly affect my business.

My opinion has zero effect on the housing bubble. I'm not for or against it. It just is. But it is important to see it clearly. I'd like to believe that I'm thinking independently of the common wisdom, trying to look at things from an angle.

I'm looking to dodge the train wrecks, because I don't believe I can stop them. I actually think being forthright and upfront is probably foolish; but because I'm an outsider and a loner, I'm not beholden to anyone, and because I own my own business, I can't really be impacted. I like to believe that if it is my honest opinion, people won't hold it against me. At least, I hope so. But I've been doing it at the store in and my life for a long time now, and it is too hard to try to change now.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Here we go again. The Bulletin publishes a set of statistics and comes up with different, even opposite, conclusions than I would.


Lets see:
Construction (natural resources and mining),up from 2001, 7.7 vs. 11.1.
Professional and business services, up, 7.8 vs. 9.8

Retail trade, down, 15.5 vs. 13.8.
Manufacturing, down 12.6 vs. 9.7.

O.K. Am I wrong as seeing 'construction' and 'business services' as being tied into the housing market, which is headed down? The Bulletin itself says, "The largest industry gains over the six-year period have been in construction, professional and business services..."

Am I wrong to see a loss of manufacturing jobs as being less than healthy?

It seems to me we're headed in the wrong direction, as far as diversity goes.

When you look at averages compared to the state, it's worse. "Central Oregon has almost twice the percentage of construction jobs as the United States and Oregon. It also beats state and national numbers in retail, and the leisure and hospitality industries.

"In May 2007, 11.1 percent of the tri-county's jobs fell under construction, according to the data. In the nation, 6.1 percent of jobs were in construction...

"In retail, Central Oregon had 13.8 percent of its jobs tied to
this typically lower-wage industry, compared with 11 percent in the nation and 11.6 percent in the state.

"In leisure and hospitality, Central Oregon and it's 475 - million-a-year tourism industry comprised 12.6 percent of all employment, compared with 9.9 percent in the nation and Oregon."

This is diversity? Never mind we've lost manufacturing jobs, which are the kind of jobs we really need, relatively high-paying, non touristy jobs.

The text of the article, the quotes, seem to me to directly contradict the title of the article.

Oh, Bulletin. Your eyes say, yes, yes, yes but your words say no, no, no.

Construction, retail and hospitality "'have more eggs' of the Central Oregon employment basket, Williams said.

"If one of those industries were to take a huge hit, we would feel it more," he said. "We don't have the same diversity mix as the U.S and Oregon."

The italics are mine, just to highlight how the last paragraph of the article is opposite the first paragraph.

Edited to add:

It may not seem like it, but I like the Bulletin. Really I do. No irony or sarcasm attached.

Maybe because I started reading the paper in high school, I've always liked the layout, the selection of stories. It's always been too conservative for me, but that reflects the local populace. It's sometimes been a bit boosterish for me, but that is probably better than the alternative. It sometimes seems impelled to put positive slants into the titles and opening paragraphs of their articles, and then contradict them in the meat of the story. But, you know, putting up a neutral title, like,
NEW STATISTICS ABOUT JOBS RELEASED, probably wouldn't sell papers.

They went a little extreme, even weirdly conservative, when Chandler died. Coloring the bridge opponents as 'nuts', went too far for even the locals, and they immediately wised up and became a bit more subtle in their slams. They are so reliably conservative in their editorials that I can pretty much figure out the truth by assuming the opposite.

It may be a beginning paper for some of their reporters, but I believe the Bulletin does get the best and brightest, who often go on to very strong careers.

And while I'm at it. I also think that most of our local leaders, in the city council and county, mean well for the locals.

A caveat. I'm not much of a 'conspiracy' thinker. In college I wrote a paper for Orde Pinckney's COCC Government class, saying that I didn't believe the oil companies had conspired to raise gas prices. I was enamored of what I thought was 'inside' knowledge, from Washington Week in Review, and the New York Times, etc. Of course, a few years later, the oil companies were pleading guilty, and paying 'windfall' profits taxes. (I also got an A on the paper -- but I think Orde was just pleased to have a student who actually READ the New York Times on a regular basis, and watched Wash. Wk in Review.....)

I usually have to look at a situation and ADD the conspiracy element, because it's not my natural inclination.

But I don't believe our Boss Hogs are getting rich, or are corrupt. Unfortunately, I do believe that developers with vast experience in dealing with local government and in exploiting the landscape, can come in and outmaneuver and manipulate even the smartest local leader. It happened with the saving and loan debacle, too. What's happening to Bend is happening in many places, in kind if not degree, and it would almost take a local leader who has already been through the process somewhere else to navigate it all.

I'm sure BendBust will tell me I'm being mealy-mouthed. But I think its important not to tarnish people's reputation without proof.

O.K. Bilbo, have at it.

I also really dislike innuendo and rumor, when talking about local leaders. Not fair, not fair at all.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Looking through Comic Retailer (the trade mag) and I am struck again by the fact that we run about 25% less than your average comic store in singles sales; after 27 years in business, in a population area that is supposedly above average. Never have figured that out.

On the other hand, our graphic novel sales are 5 times higher than average.

Go figure.

Rock chuck are running wild. Driving home, saw one scurrying his fat little butt across the street. Another one was sunbathing on the rocks on the front berm; grabbed my cat and tried to get her interested, but she looked up and down and sideways and didn't see the critter (or pretended not to see it.) Was on the back porch, heard a dog barking, and looked up to see another rock chuck running down the sidewalk.

I'm a little leery of trapping, because I know there is a neighborhood skunk around, and what if I get it, instead?

Today's business headline: Wal-Mart Sees Billions Slip Away; Shoplifting, employee theft are major contributors.

Karma's a bitch. Problem is, their negligence is like a virus that spreads to other retail.

Read World War Hulk #1 last night. Really liked it. Straightforward, Hulk has come to smash earth and take no prisoners. The way a crossover should be done.
Also read Submariner, and it was pretty good too. Love the way Marvel has incorporated the real world terrorist problem into their universe.
Local, by Brian Wood, about a young girl who moves from city to city, reinventing herself, always flakily self-destructing. Very real and affecting.
Finally, tried to read The Amory Wars, by one of the creators of Coheed and Cambria (rock group.) Amateurish. Lost interest real quick.

I don't know. It's probably me. But it seems like the people walking around downtown are getting more snobby. I've got a big bushy beard right now, when I'm usually pretty trimmed down. People treat me differently, it feels like, and I just get my rebellious nature up and think -- you don't like bushy beards? I'll show you bushy beards.

I've gone from an opossum to a grizzly.

Card Trade is my other trade mag. Find it fascinating the way they ignore what I consider to be the biggest problem in the card industry. Not just that the mass market has cards, but they have advantageous packaging.

I spent alot of time recently demonstrating to a woman how a box of cards at Target only had 8 packs, and mine had 36 packs, and the Target packs had 10 cards, and mine had 12, and if you took your calculator out my 79.99 box cost .21 cents a card, and Target's 20.00 box cost .25 a card.

She said, "I've only got 20.00." And walked out. Hard to argue with that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Was talking to my compatriot, Scott, of More Fun in Ashland, on the phone yesterday. Scott is one of the few retailers I know who actually likes to talk about business, though I think I wear even him out with my blather. I'm pretty intense about it, as you can probably glean from this blog.

Scott is the guy who inspired me to diversify my comic stock. It is the common wisdom in the trade that small shops and or small town shops can't sell independent comics. But if Scott could sell them in a town of 20k, I figured I might be able to do the same thing. He has Medford nearby, I-5, a 4-year university, tourists, and most importantly the Shakespeare Festival. I've got a bigger town and tourists.

I'm glad I followed his example, and it's worked very well for me.

Anyway, he had the patience to help me add a feature to my computer. Some new-fangled techgeek thing, whacha call it? Instant messaging?

I'm being dragged kicking a screaming into the 21 century. So, I'm now AOL under duncanmcgeary. Turned out to be easy, like most of these things, if you just have someone guide you through.

We have renewed our lease at the BOOKMARK, my wife Linda's used bookstore. It continues to grow, even after 4 years. It took to the 3 year mark to reach the level I had envisioned as success. We're doing O.K. if our biggest problem is too many books coming in the door.

We're going to start adding shelving, while keeping the neat and open nature of the store intact. I'm really gratified for Linda, after putting up with idiotic bosses in a series of jobs after we closed the Mr.View mall, is now her own boss and is excelling at it. It makes me a little itchy not to be involved in most the decisions, but I know that it's her store and I just need to tend to my own store. I've always felt responsible for our income, even when Linda was bringing in just as much with her jobs. Now, I feel like both of us have an income that is under our own control, not counting the vagaries of retail.

Finally, I just can't resist commenting on the Bulletin's housing article today.


Hey, it's even worse than I thought. In my business, whenever I have a down month on a month that supposed to be up, I call it a 'double whammy.' It hurts twice as much. Selling 121 houses in May is truly pathetic, especially since at least some of them are probably locals moving to a new house. It would be like inverting my Christmas sales with my September sales.

I can't help but think not only about the brokers, but the secretaries in their office, the air-conditioner repairman, the guy who mows their lawn. The ripples from this are going to be devastating.

Meanwhile, most people I talk to in my store continue to be either unaware or unconcerned.

Ironically, except in the case of the early 80's, which was more of a depression than a recession for Bend, my store has always done better in down times than up. Never quite understood why. But I'm not counting on good sales past the first of next year, and I'm going to keep a watchful eye.

Edited to add: Now that I'm on the subject of housing. This is playing out almost exactly the way I thought it would. I feel emboldened, empowered even, to make a prediction I never would have made a few months ago, not because I didn't think it but because I knew it seemed outrageous.

I think static population growth is not only possible, but probable. Oh, we may grow slowly, or we may decline slowly, but the growth rate we've seen is going to come to a screeching halt.

So 11 of the houses that sold last month were to millionaires? Say 2 people per house? 22 newcomers. Compare that to the probably hundreds of houses that came online last month and didn't sell. The people who built those houses are soon going to be looking for work (to build even more houses that don't sell??)

How many of the 111 houses left were sold to residents? Take some equity out of an existing home, put it on the market, buy a bigger house because you have a new baby and are clueless?

You've got the city saying that the town is going to grow xxx much, a guest columnist who thinks its going to grow 5 times xxx much. I'm on the side of the city, but only after a number of down years.

We had a boom in the late 70's in Bend, a boom that was different in degree, but NOT in kind. 2 new malls, lots of new subdivisions, and most importantly, a city wide sewer project, brought in high paying jobs. When that all collapsed, we had nearly no new building for the next 10 years, certainly in the commercial area of which I'm familiar. Any projects were renovations, like the Post Office or the O'Kane building. It wasn't until about 1980 when Fred Meyer came in, followed a year or two later by Shopko, followed by the avalanche.

But there was a decade of stasis.

The u-hauls and for sale signs at every other house on the block were really amazing.

What do people think is going to happen to the workers who have been making good money building these houses? Do we think they are going to hang around waiting for better times? Take lower wages?

What happens to a formerly high flying real estate agent when he can't afford the dues to the country club? He leaves, and starts fresh somewhere else.

It will be both economic AND social reasons that people will leave Bend.

I will further predict that once the exodus begins, the vaunted rich folks won't stick around either, because Bend will turn from a future Aspen to a down-and-out want-to-be. The people who will actually stay because of the mountains, the lakes and streams, the skiing, etc. will be less than you think. But even if they do, it will be proportionally like last months housing sales; 22 millionaires bought 11 million dollar houses. Not exactly a population explosion.

So keep saying that "People want to live in Bend." The economy doesn't care.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Best laid plans....We had a our best month in comic sales since the mid-90's bubble.

Twice, over the years, I've been caught with too high a percentage of my sales in one product, only to have it collapse and almost take the store down with it. Both times, it wasn't so much that I dropped product lines as that sales became too powerful and overwhelmed everything else. Sports cards grew exponentially for a few years; then comics followed with their own boom.

Nevertheless, I've tried mightily over the years to add diversity to my product line. I'd prefer to have no one product be more than 50% of sales. I thought I'd succeeded last year.

But last month, comics pushed their way to 65% of sales again.

Comic monthlies, which had been doing about 60% of the category, with 40% being graphic novels, pushed their way to 70%.

What ya gonna do? Turn down sales?

I'm surprised by the resurgence of monthies, vs graphic novels. Even back-issues seem to be doing better. In some ways, it's a good sign, because the mass market can and does do books, but I think will always have problems with the verities of monthlies.

Three areas of concern. I have a new customer that spent a lot of the increase in comics last month. I love that he is younger, around 18, and that he's enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I worry that he might burn out quicker, by spending too much.

Secondly, I'm uncomfortable with how much of the increase is tied to huge Marvel crossovers and tie-ins. I've mentioned before that I think it's asking your base customers to spend more and more to keep up, instead of creating new customers.

Third, gimmicks and variant covers. These are purely collectible, which I've de-emphasized over the years in favor of actually reading and enjoying. But again, What ya gonna do? Turn down the sales?

I'm going along with it. I've already upped my orders on monthlies, and am more willing than ever to reorder quick sell outs. I'm even thinking of revamping my back issues, which have been neglected for years now. I have a huge back inventory of comics which are basically in storage. When I was on the coast, I saw a new system of boxes that would more or less double the number of back-issues I could display.

So, I'll just enjoy the comic sales for awhile, but be certain I don't neglect my other product lines.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Great, I get a secondary connection to a major comic website; THE BEAT, linking to Top Shelf, talking about Pegasus, and I lay down a string of heavily local, bubble oriented blogs.

I swear I talk about comics. Often. Come back and check, sometime.
I've been contemplating this post for a long time. I'm afraid that it will be a credibility buster -- everyone will read it and say, "that's it. Duncan doesn't know what the hell he's talking about." But it's what I believe, and I think I can make a case for it. And I would love to have evidence presented to me to the contrary. So, if you disagree with me, please point to some examples that contradict me.

Here it is:

Independently owned high-end businesses rarely succeed in Bend.

Huh? Isn't that all we have? Doesn't that describe just about every business that has opened in the Old Mill, in Northwest Crossing, in Downtown Bend?

I'm afraid so.

There lies the danger.

First, the exceptions. Corporate high-end will survive or fail based on national trends and results. I leave them out of this. High-end restaurants seem to be thriving, but I just don't know enough about the business model. Same with service businesses.

But retail is what I do, and what I see doesn't make sense. Or rather, what I see in real life is counter-intuitive and contradicts everything that everyone else seems to be saying and believing.

High-end businesses in Bend rarely succeed.

The apparent success of high-end businesses in Bend over the last 3 or 4 years have been anomalies, fueled by the housing bubble, and can only continue if the bubble continues to expand. If or when the bubble truly bursts, the inherent weaknesses of high-end businesses that catered to that bubble will start to show. That weakness will be accentuated by the increases in rents and costs in independently owned businesses. It will be further accentuated by the impression that high-end businesses are doing well, and the time-lag between reality and perception.

The economy doesn't care.

I have watched many home decor, jewelry, dress shops, wine shops, shoe stores, galleries, etc. etc. come to Bend over the years. Some have survived, the quiet ones, the humble ones, the home-grown ones. Others have made a big splash, and then an even bigger thud. They leave a beautiful corpse, higher rent, and an attractive place for the next dreamer.

One of the first business books I read was GROWING A BUSINESS, by Paul Hawken, who started Smith and Hawken. His contention was that most business start Too Big, wasting time, money, and effort on non-essential product and services and infrastructure; That they buy too much inventory before they know what their customers want, that they trap themselves into a business model before they know what kind of real sales they are likely to do. Everything I've seen since then has only confirmed that observation.

It has only been over the last five years that Bend has sustained these kinds of shops for very long.

But, you say, look how well they are doing. Well, I know that many of these stores obviously have money, but I suspect that most of that money is coming from behind the counter, instead of through the front door. That the investment is going to take years to pan out, and that most won't pan out at all. They create beautiful storefronts, with beautiful inventory. The irony being, that the humble little store down the street with used fixtures may actually be turning a profit, while the 'rich' looking store is bleeding money.

What we can never know, from the outside, is how much money is backing the enterprise. What we can never know until the crunch comes, is how motivated the owner is in the face of adversity. The rich don't like losing money any more than you or I do.

Before 2000, I saw high-end store after high-end store fail. With the bubble, with all those new houses needing home decor and furniture, and all the home equity money flowing into town, I think the high-end stores have probably done all right.

But I will contend: the rich don't spend money in Bend.

Half of you have stopped reading, I'm sure. How ridiculous.

But here is what I observe in the real world of retail. A high-end jewelry store opens, with beautiful and expensive items. They also offer repairs and adjustments as a service, and carry a moderate amount of more affordable jewelry for the 'locals'; and what happens is, the high-end stuff almost never sells, the moderate stuff sells O.K., and that a large part of their overhead is carried by repairs and adjustments. An analogy of the above can probably be made for just about every downtown business.

The retired who have moved here are shedding possessions, not adding to them. It's why high rated T.V. programs for the elderly are cancelled, and lower rated teenage programs are renewed: the advertisers know that middle-aged and elderly QUIT buying as much.

So those stores that adjust to the reality of Bend survive. Those disappointed that all their beautiful high-end artwork and furniture doesn't flow out the door, will end up quitting. The ones who have made the reality adjustment will try to keep the illusion of 'high-end' while the quality of their merchandise is slowly adjusted down.

I do not exaggerate when I say there are business downtown that I almost never see any customers in; businesses, that I'm told, are doing big bang business. All I know is, every business I've EVER seen where I don't see live customers on a regular basis, didn't survive. What I'm seeing, and what I'm hearing, don't match. I trust what I see.

I repeat: I suspect that more money is flowing into these stores from behind the counter than from in front of the counter.

I had a competitor once who said; "I don't need to make money." He flashed a big wad of cash around. Six months later, he was closed. I've learned since that "I don't need to make money...." is the kiss of death. It's very hard to make money when you're really trying....working hard, talented, persevering. It's nearly impossible if you "don't need to..."

What matters is how many people walk in the door; how many of them spend money; how much they spend. Except for July, August and December, most of those people are locals, with limited spending power. We are a town which proclaims it has champagne taste, and then goes out and buys a six-pack.

The economy doesn't care. All this will play out over the next few years. Much of it will be obscured by new high-end businesses replacing the old high-end businesses. But I'd be willing to bet, that if we took a random sampling of 10 downtown high-end businesses, that 8 of them will have sold or will be gone in 2 to 3 years.

How dare I make these kinds of predictions? I don't know all the facts. But I do know what costs are like, what profit margins are like, and what the customer flow is like. I know that few businesses can defy reality for very long.

The economy doesn't care.

There are exceptions to every rule, and I'd love to hear about them. Anyone?
I hope Anna Sowa doesn't think I'm picking on her when I respond to her articles. I give her credit for writing about subjects that matter to me and Bendites, instead of generic, fluff business articles. I also sort of assume that it is the editors who are picking the titles of the articles. I've noticed that the content of the articles often contradict the rosy titles.

What I disagree with is the interpretation, the slant, they put on the information.

Yesterday I mentioned that I thought the continuing rise in business starts at a time when Bend's business underpinning are starting to unravel wasn't a good sign. That new business starts are a lagging indicator, planned while the curve was on the way up but likely to come online just as the curve is heading down.

Today, the Bulletin followed that up with the article; "LIFESTYLE ATTRACTS BUSINESSES TO REGION."

I see two problems.

One. Coming to Bend for the lifestyle and then starting a business is ass-backward.

One should start a business because there is a NEED or a DEMAND for the services or product in a town, not because an owner wants to live in a town and looks to start a business. Chances are slim that a new resident is going to understand Bend, start his or her business at an appropriate level, and then succeed. In comparison, look at Lakeview, which has grown by 'only' 3000 people in the last 5 years. I'll be willing to bet than almost any new business started there were started because of an obvious demand, probably started by a resident who knew what he was doing, rather than started because someone came from out of town and decided what the local residents wanted.

Two. "The largest increases were in construction, real estate, rentals and leasing..." Yeah, we need more of those types of businesses, just as new housing starts have dropped 45% and home sales have dropped 26%! The first example of a business in the article was a frackin' real estate office. What happens when everyone in Bend is a realtor trying to sell to another realtor?

I don't want to stomp on anyone's dream, but starting a business because you want to live somewhere, unless there is a demand for that service or product isn't going to work. How do you know if there is a demand? One quick way would be to discover what the average population demographics were for each business, discover if someone is already filling that niche. I'd be willing to submit that there are very few niches that haven't already been filled.

The other way would be to create demand for a service or niche that hasn't previously existed. Creating a business that takes groups of seniors on hikes? Uh, O.K. Thought I can't imagine the day when I'll be so senior that I can't walk down a trail by myself. But, you know, good luck. I've got a pretty good idea, after 27 years in business, after multiple locations, after living in Bend my entire life, what the likely costs and likely rewards are to most stores -- and from my perspective, an awful lot of businesses are, to be kind, micalculations.

I'm afraid that what I see are overestimations on the part of most new businesses for their services or products. Too many of the same kinds of businesses, where the pie can be sliced only so many times before everyone falls below survival levels. Businesses that are started as a 'dream', who over invest from the very start in infrastructure. Stores that are leaving behind beautiful corpses for the next 'dream' owners.

A business community that depends on people losing their money in a sinkhole in order to prosper is on shaky ground. Downtown Bend continues to fail upward -- for every new business that prospers, there are four or five 'recreational retail' stores that will be there only so long as the owners don't tire of losing money, working everyday, and watching the clocks tick.

And this is at a time when the retail climate is pretty good. If there is a slowdown, either nationally or locally, there is going to be a huge shakeout. How can 2000 real estate agents sell 100 houses a month?

I was talking to a business from Portland who told me that there were more stores in Bend offering what he did than there were in Portland. You can probably apply that to alot of businesses in Bend.

I was reading a SF book last night, and they quoted the line: "Nature doesn't care." I'd like to adapt that to business: The economy doesn't care.

Your dream business will not succeed simply because you want it to. It will succeed if there is a need or a demand. It is arrogant and foolhardy to come here from somewhere else, do little or no research, and open a business when you have no business experience. Take those long odds of succeeding in business, and for Bend, double them.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lonely Maytag real estate.

My next door neighbor is having an "Open House." Since this is my chance to see what's next to me, I bopped on over and checked it out. Huge house, one level, 2400 ft, probably on a third of an acre. Like most houses in Williamson, a nice house. They're asking 495,000

I've been saying how Willaimson Park never seems to have any houses for sale. Well, now we have 3, which is a veritable explosion. I knew that an older couple owned it as a 'second' home because one of their children lived in the neighborhood. She laughed, and said, my parents, my sister, but the they just didn't like the weather, etc.

Asked it it used to be a doctor's office, because it looks like it would be perfect for a couple of offices, or a children's nursury, or a group home of some kind. It used to be something like that.

So I picked her brain. Is it a drawback to be so near doctor's and dentist's offices? -- no, its a plus.

Do you ever read the bubble blogs? -- what's a blog?

How's business? -- this is Bend, people will always want to move here.

Where are all the browsers? -- well, it's the first really nice weekend.

So, the upshot of it all is, I've been gardening all afternoon in the back yard. 3 hours, so far. NOT A SINGLE LOOKER!

The Lonely Maytag realtor.....

Update; just after writing the preceding, a young middle aged couple and probably their mother drove up in an SUV, and checked out the place for probably 20 minutes. Heard them ask about the sprinkler as they left. About ten minutes after that, the realtor removed the sign.

Must not have liked what she heard, and called it a day.

Like a bystander seeing a corpse twitch, maybe.

Really, it is hard to see that the tiny little upturn from the 4th quarter of 2006 to the 1st quarter of 2007 as anything other than a seasonal uptick, which -- if you examine the charts -- happened strongly last year, and even in a little in the boom years.

In other words, I think it's a lot more pertinent to compare 1st quarter of this year with the 1st quarter of last year, for a more accurate appraisal. Hard to see anything positive there. Building permits drop from 392 in the middle of 05; they don't give us 2006, but I'm guessing after the little uptick at the start of of 06, looks to be well over 300 or more. This year? 163. A 50% drop? (I'm sorry, they give us 45% at the end of the article, my bad.)

Yes, housing units sold are up from 295 to 359 from the 4th to 1st quarters, but they are DOWN from 560 or so from the 1st qt. of 06. A 30% drop. (Again, at the end of the article, they say 26%, which doesn't look right, but I'll take their word for it.)

Median days on the market haven't seen any improvement from the last quarter, much less 2006. A increase from 82 to 142 days.

As a businessman, I find any comparisons month to month to be worthless. What would the fact that sales drop -- EVERY YEAR -- about 40% from December to January tell me? I compare December to December, apples to apples.

In the face of all this, the Bulletin finds it positive that new business filings have hardly slowed at all as a positive, whereas I see it as a disaster waiting to happen. I think that new businesses openings are a lagging indicator; and that many of these new businesses were planned in the 2004 to 2005 period, and won't come on line until later this year. Good luck with that.

Edited to add:

To put it in perspective, how many of you could absorb a 45% or even a 26% drop in income? How many of you would just shrug and say, "Gee, I was getting too much money, and now I'm just back to normal wages?"

In my business, I've survived up to 25% drops in business in the short run -- barely. I've survived 50% drops in business over a span of several years -- again, barely. It wasn't pleasant, and almost all my competitors didn't survive at all. I was just more stubborn.

It's really difficult to see any of these figures as positive.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Such a cheerful entry, yesterday. "Quiet Devastation." Ouch.

Then I turn around and have a nearly record day at the store. It was the confluence of my two biggest customers, but Linda always tells me, it all counts. But it feels kind of weird to be so downbeat about the future, and yet be doing pretty well in the present. One doesn't preclude the other, intellectually. But it's a bit of cognitive dissonance that I haven't quite resolved.

The rock chuck had a banquet while we were gone. About a fifth of my backyard garden had the tops eaten off. Either the rock chuck goes, or I do!

Still sticking to budget. The next three months will tell the whole story. We've been beating last year by about 15 - 20% each month, which has been the trend for the past 3 years. So even if we just Match last year, we should actually turn a profit. It's a very rare occurrance, (beside earning my own living.) With all the rent increases and dislocations I don't consider a profit to be anything other than insurance.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A quiet devastation.

I feel like I should add one more thing to my earlier post.

The bubbles I've been involved in, end much quieter than you expect them to.

The people who survive usually have a resigned response. The people who don't survive are like con-artist victims. They don't want to admit to being suckers. Occasionally, you'll get the chagrined, "I wish I sold my Nasdaq stock earlier." Or you get a forlorn, "Are you buying sports cards? I've got a really valuable collection."

Once a person drops out of a bubble, it's the past. It's embarrassing. They move on.

Most of the emotion happens just before the end, as it starts to become clear that things are changing for the worse, and the Casassandra's begin to be targeted. The sports card people spent years bemoaning how 'negative' the messengers were, and how if everyone would be 'positive' it would all be turned around. Which turned a blind eye to the problems, of course. If you can't even acknowledge that there is a problem, you sure as hell can't fix it.

Anyway, there will be a quiet desperation for the next couple years. But it will happen under the radar, to a large extent. The media will move on to the next big thing, once it becomes old news. Frankly, we bloggers are becoming a bit redundant already, (not that that will shut us up) because the things we were saying as possible are now on the front pages as news.

I was just talking to my neighbor for 20 years, Jerry Opie of the Sole Shop, and he was calling me about Sukmi's situation. (He calls me anytime there is a new victim of the downtown rent increases -- a sort of 'told you so...') But see, he's moved on. He is not motivated to indignation the way he was before he moved. Therefore you don't hear anything. He's happy where he's at.
Told you so.

Someone had to say it. The news is just relentless confirmation of what many of us naysayers were saying a year or two ago. Rising interest rates, falling prices, rising inventories, slower retail sales, higher gas prices, etc. etc. Everyday a new story.

Here's the thing that has to be said, though. This is just the beginning. The 300 pound bully has thrown you to the ground. But you're not going to be able to just get up, dust yourself off, and say, "I get your point." No, the 300 pound bully is intent on beating the crap out of you.

It's a slow moving trainwreck, and the first car has just jumped the track, but all the trailing cars don't know it yet, and in the caboose they're having a party. On the side of the tracks, witnesses have heard a screeching brake, but aren't really paying attention.

My job as a downtown retailer will be to dodge the flying debris for as long as possible, to cater to that party, and then dig a hole and wait for it to be over. The commercial side of the equation is still stoking the boilers, raising rents, building new office buildings. Full speed ahead. So I'll make a prediction right now. Everything the bubble bloggers were saying about domestic real estate can be applied toward commercial real estate, just a year or two later.

It will be slow and unnoticeable at first. But, I'll be surprised if in two years I won't be able to look at the commercial aspect and say;

Told you so.

Edited to add:

It probably behooves me to talk about the Kuishinbo Kitchen article in the paper today. I have several reactions.

First is, whenever a new landlord says, "We aren't planning on any changes," Run, don't walk, to the exits.

Second, retailers are for reasons I do and do not understand, very fuzzy about the details of their lease. I was given to understand that everyone in that building had fairly long leases. Thus, I thought when the Double Happiness restaurant had to leave, it was a power-play on the part of the new landlords.

Third, the question of why the landlord wouldn't just raise the rent without fixing the place up. Well and good that they talk about renovating so that can charge more, but in my experience, if they can charge more WITHOUT spending money, that's what they'll do.

Fourth, damn, some people have been getting cheap rent! 1.00 a ft? .82 a ft? I haven't paid those rates for a decade, and believe me my building is just as old behind the facade.

Fifth, I hope that Sukmi Douglass finds a great location, and prospers. Success is the best revenge.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I take pride in my store....obviously. But I work in a bit of a vacuum. I don't get to see other stores, except through pictures, very often. I rarely get away, and when we are in other towns, it's hard to get my wife to go with me. She always jokes that I'll announce before I go in, "I don't think I'll tell them I own a shop." And then almost immediately proclaim, "I own a comic shop, too!"

While I was away on the coast, we had a visit from Brett Warnock of Top Shelf publishers. I think of Top Shelf as one of the 'prestige' publishers, along with Fantagraphics and Alternative Press and Oni Press, putting out high quality independent comics and graphic novels. BLANKETS by Craig Thompson, and LOST GIRLS, by Alan Moore are a couple of their titles.

So I checked their website, and found the following review of my store.

• Was on a four-day holiday this last weekend in Bend, and i made time to visit what i believe to be their only real comics shop, Pegasus Books, owned and operated by Duncan McGeary. To be honest, for a small town comics shop, i wasn't holding my breath for anything spectacular. Oh how very wrong i was. This is a truly excellent comics shop, and one that actually competes with the best that Portland has to offer.

While it's a little cramped, the space is used wisely, and the layout couldn't be better. The first section you see when you walk in the door, is real-world genre art and reference books for Fantasy, Film-Noir, Crime Fiction, Sci-fi, etc. But what makes this section brilliant is how he segues these genres into the like-minded material available in comics. So the horror section becomes the horror comics section.

Also right there at the front of the shop is the kid's section. A no-brainer, i think, but i'm amazed at how many comics shops give kids (only the freaking FUTURE of the industry), short shrift.

I was really impressed, and showed my enthusiasm by dropping some serious dough there, picking up the following: the new issue of Wizard; a Marvel Adventures Avengers ashcan, written by rising start Jeff Parker; the out-of-print Thor: Vikings, by Garth Ennis (which i read while The Kid was napping, and LOVED it!!); also by Garth Ennis, the first tpb of Boys, with art by Darick Robertson; a totally impossible to find Spanish language collection in the Todo Max series, El Canto Del Gallo, by world class cartoonist (and super nice guy) Max; and finally, an art book called The Paperback Art of James Avanti.

The paperback artist field is one i'm relatively new to (having only recently "discovered" the incredible Robert McGinnis), and this book is outstanding. Commercial artists like Avanti and McGinnis should be as widely recognized as stalwarts like Rockwell, and maybe, with rich books like these, someday it may happen.

Anyway, if you find yourself in Bend, Oregon for a little R&R, yuo could do worse than to visit this fine store, at 105 Minnesota Avenue. Duncan also writes a fun blog.

I was really pleased that he got my attempt to blend mainstream material with comic material.

When I was on the coast, I visited Amazing Stories in Astoria. A clean, bright, orderly shop, half games, half comics. Mostly limited to the front of the catelog, Marvel, DC, Image and Dark Horse. I tried to talk to the owner, and he was friendly enough, but not very revealing.

I'm a glutton for talk about my business, and I'm usually disappointed by how rarely owners want to talk. Linda says, "They're taking care of customers...." But I think, if the customer is a regular, they could say something along the lines of, "I rarely get a chance to talk business, so just let me know when you're ready, but meanwhile I'm going to pump this guy for info." Anyway, that's what I do. Sometimes the things I learn will help my business for years and years, which is worth missing a small sale here and there. But I think it's more the nature of small business owners to reveal as little as possible.

I think I've got a good store. Better than good. A diamond in the desert. I get plenty of compliments from tourists, to which I joke, "Tell the locals. They don't know what they got." Which is true, in a way. There is a benefit from being around for 27 years; we've accumulated more than your average store, even in big cities.

Anyway, I rarely get visits from professionals. I had a visit from one of the guys on the Game Industry Forum, and I had a impression he actually didn't even like my store, possibly because he was expected a 'game' store -- and games are a sideline.

I had one visit from one of the guys from the Comic Book Industry Alliance, and I waited for him to post a reaction, but he never did.

I've never been visited by a rep from Diamond; or most of my other suppliers. Bend is a destination area, not a place people just pass through and check the comic shop.

But that reaction, "Hey, this is a way more complete store than I expected," is what I'm shooting for.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

When visiting other towns, the subject of Bend's growth always comes up. Usually, the local will have heard 'rumors' of Bend, but they almost always follow up with the comment, "We're going through the same thing."

Oh, silly people. They just don't get that Bend is growing and sploding on an Order of Magnitude bigger and faster. And you can't really say that, because it comes out as,
"Sure your dog is big, but my dog is bigger."

I am given to understand that downtown Astoria has undergone a bit of a renaissnace lately, "just like Bend." Maybe -- just like Bend circa 1988. Lots of kitschy shops, more like a less classsy Sisters, or more like Seaside. Many more junky shops than art galleries. Not putting it down, but they just don't get how far they would have to go. The center two blocks are mostly filled, but the two blocks on either side are still half empty. There is a store in the middle, called Just Deals, that is three side by side stores, with a huge basement, filled with nothing but pure junky junk. It was very busy. Just a more casual, funky feel.

I did get through to one store owner when I mentioned rents were 2.50 a foot in Bend. Her mouth just sort of dropped open.

We stopped at a friend's store in Sisters, and I found that her rent was nearly half of mine. We also drove through Longview on the way back, and picked up one of those real estate rags, and my estimate was that housing was about 40% cheaper than Bend. Looked up the population, and saw that it had grown from 31,000 to 34,600 from 1990 to 2000. Sort of like the way Bend used to grow, up until 1990.

Working everyday in Bend, I can start to just accept the way it is, and even begin to think its normal. Seeing other towns is a real antidote to that. We ARE different.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I'm going to make a few guesses about what's happening with the house sales in Bend.

1.) All the Open Houses on the west side, and the lack of Open Houses on the east side. Could it be that people on the east side have bought houses with the intent of actually living in them? That they weren't swayed by the 'status' of living on the west side and instead were picking houses for their livibility? Or that they are more humble means and can't afford to play the real estate game, and that those who are so inclined are all on the west side?

2.) Median prices being so high. Obviously, higher priced houses are selling. I know in sports cards that I sell the higher end expensive boxes at a time when sports card sales are at an all time low.

3.) Prices not coming down. I know that with my product, there comes a time when prices and sales get frozen. When things don't sell any better at lower prices than they do at higher prices, and that the inherent price of production is so high that replacement costs are higher than the price you sell. Prices get stuck. Liquidity suffers. You wait for that one guy who really wants it.

Just some thoughts from a retailer.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Back in Portland. Visited 5 bookstores along the way, Lucy's and Godfather's in Astoria; Grammi's and St.Helens Bookstore in St. Helens; and Trillum Books in Cathlemet.

Trillium's was very small, one room, but nice. Same with St. Helens and Lucy's. Small. Grammi's and Godfather's served coffee; Godfather looked like a nice little hangout. They were having a heated argument about the Kennedy assasination, of all things, when we were there.

One thing that kind of kills me is how cluttered all these stores are. A store on a scale of 7 out of 10, would be an 8 or 9 if they would just go over and, I don't know, prop a book back up that has fallen over. Maybe because my store is packed to the gills, I make a real effort to straighten things up on a constant basis. So I know that it really isn't that hard; it takes a few minutes a day which you can easily do as you're chatting with people or whatever. Just do it automatically, everytime you walk by.

So I don't really get the messiness factor. Comic stores are famous for being junky, but you'd think new book stores, whose image really depends on a sense of class would never let books become sodisordered. I have to resist going around and straightening.

Back home tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Surprised to find a comic shop in Astoria, Amazing Stories, and they are kind enough to let me use their computer. Nice store.

Starting to rain a little. Going to drive around, mostly. Maybe go to an afternoon movie. Love the coast, even when it rains, as long as I'm only visiting.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

I'm in Portland, visiting the kids. Friday night with Toby and Lisa, two nights on the coast, and Monday night with Todd and Elsa.

Traffic. Bend has grown so much, that I can fool myself into thinking that we're getting to be a big city. Though I know in my mind, and I pretty consistently tell people that we are still a small town.

Got stuck in a traffic jam on I-5 that crawled along at 10 miles an hour for almost an hour. Got to admit, Bend doesn't have that.

Meanwhile, on the ride over Santiam, got stuck twice behind a car that would slow to 55 on every hill and turny area, and speed up to 70 on the flats and straightaways. My wife's car has so little umphh, that by the time I'd get from 55 to 70 to try to pass, it was too late. I'm never sure if the people who do this are just mean, or thoughtless. As someone once said, never attribute to maliciousness what you can attribute to incompetence.

Despite my best efforts, we've managed to get the weekends off, which is to worst time to be traveling. Years ago, we somehow managed to get the early or mid-weeks, and traveling was easier.

Sitting by the river, (or the coast, where we're heading tomorrow), I can feel the stress just sort of fall away. On NPR the other day, they talked about how you really don't get the full benefit of vacation without two weeks. Yeah, right. I can't imagine that happening again in my working lifetime, which probably IS my lifetime.

But even after 10 minutes of tossing pebbles in the river, I felt myself shiver in relief. Breathe it in.

As a native Bendite, the coast has always had a huge allure to me. I probably wouldn't want to live there, but I love visiting. I've noticed, the coastal people love Bend. Opposites attract. I am a recovering workaholic, and I've made the decision not to call the store for all five days I'm gone.

Long walks on the beaches. That's all I'm gonna do. And reading. (I have to work my way around all the leaves that Linda stuck in my book to flatten them.) And spending time with Linda. Still surprised after 24 years how much we like getting away together. Just the two of us.

Two weeks? Maybe someday......

Friday, June 1, 2007

Rock Chuck Buffet

I've only seen the fat little critter a couple of times, on top of the dirt piles in back, sniffing the air. I wasn't even sure if he was from around here.

We have a birm to the left of our house, in front, a low-maintenance area with yukka plants, and a rock pile on top. When we first moved in, I saw our friend there for a second.

Linda decided she wanted to dress the birm up a little with exotic grasses, and on the very top, next to the fence, a couple of lilaces.

Woke up the other morning, with half of one of the little clumps of grass neatly sheared. Now, I've seen deer in the area, so I thought that might be it. Yesterday, Linda went out and the little rock chuck was nibbling away. He disappeared into the rocks, about 3 feet away.

He must have woke up some morning and thought breakfast was served in bed. Or that the pizza delivery guy had showed up.

Now what? I'm pretty sure the little guy wiped our hosta's in back; and I'm terribly worried about the juicy peonie buds that are about to bloom. I watched my mother's garden get eaten by deer, but I thought I was safe because of the fence.

I've heard, if I let the little guy get a family going, I'm REALLY in trouble.

I've very purposely not given him a name, because I fear this isn't going to end well for him. At best a live trapping and release. I'll have to do some research. But I fear gardening and rock chucks don't go together.